Skip to main content

What do these words mean?

Common college and financial aid terms

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Filing the FAFSA is required to access most types of financial aid for college (two or four year). It is not only used to estimate federal and state dollars that can assist you with college expenses. It also is used for a colleges’s need-based scholarships and awards. It is recommened that you file in October of your senior year.

EFC (Expected Family Contribution)

This is a number calculated from the financial information you put into the FAFSA. It estimates for colleges what FAFSA thinks you can afford to pay. This number is the basis for how much you will receive in federal and state grants, other aid and scholarships.

COA (Cost of Attendance)

This is an estimate of how much it will cost to attend this particular college for a year, including tuition, fees, room, board and books. It is the total cost used in the FAFSA calculation to determine your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution).


Grants are usually awarded on the basis of financial need. You do not pay this money back.

Work Study

A federal student aid program that allows you to earn a paycheck by working at your college.


Awards that are applied for and given on the basis of merit, skill and unique characteristics. You do not pay this money back.


Money borrowed by students and/or parents to help pay educational expenses. Loans must be repaid with interest, usually after your education is completed.


This term is used to identify students whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree or who obtained their degree later in life. Colleges often provide extra financial and social support to students who are first-generation.

Credit Hour (Full- and Part-Time)

Each college class in your schedule earns you a number of credit hours when you pass the class. Most classes will fall between two and five credit hours. A full-time schedule has at least 12 credit hours (roughly four classes); anything less is considered part-time. This is important for any scholarships, grants and loans you may be taking to attend college. To finish a bachelor’s degree in four years or an associate degree in two years, you typically need to be more than full-time and take 15 credit hours each semester (roughly five classes).